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January-February 2015

The Avondale
Historical Journal
Official Publication of the Avondale-Waterview Historical
Society Incorporated

Life and Times of an Innkeeper:
James Palmer (1819-1893)

The second Avondale Hotel, between 1882 and when it was
destroyed by fire in 1888. Detail from 7-A3039, Sir George
Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

by Lisa J Truttman

I was contacted recently online via my Facebook page on Auckland and New Zealand history, Timespanner. Chris
Scull told me he was a great-great grandson of James and Catherine Palmer – James Palmer being quite an important figure in the early community of Avondale from back in the days when we were called the Whau in 1866,
through to the mid 1880s, when finally he and
Avondale parted ways.
Next meeting of the
Avondale-Waterview Historical
James Palmer was born in Bridgerule, Devon, on
23 May 1819. He left Plymouth bound for New
At St Ninians, St Georges Road
Zealand on 4 December 1842 on the W estminster,
(opp. Hollywood Cinema)
arriving here 31 March 1843. He gave his age as
22, and that of a “Maria Palmer” as 18. He may
SATURDAY, 7 February 2015, 2.00 pm
have been the James Palmer appearing in an 1844
Police Jury list, working in Epsom as a labourer.

The Avondale Historical Journal

Page 2
Once again, he tried for a hotel license, this time
for the Oddfellows Home in Mechanics Bay in
1850. Once again, his application was declined.
The refusals probably had more to do with community concerns at the time regarding the increase
of licensed premises in Auckland than anything
Palmer’s applications may have lacked. In 1852,
changing tack and applying for a license for an
existing inn, called the Mason’s Home on Eden
Crescent. He obtained title to a section right
alongside the Mason’s Home in May 1853, and
may have offered this for sale in March 1854.
But, it turns out he hung onto the site instead, and
expanded the hotel with a grand brick addition.
Later that year, he bought the original wooden
hotel as well, and it was renamed the Royal.

In 1847, he applied unsuccessfully for a license for a
hotel called the Crispin Arms. In 1848-49, he may
have been in Chapel Street in the city, working instead
as a carpenter.

Palmer's land dealings in this part of Eden Crescent are
quite involved, taking in property on the other side of the
road as well, part of the future drinks factory site for
Grey & Menzies. Things came personally unstuck for
him and his family when two of his sons, James aged 6
and William Frederick aged 4, drowned in the harbour
in April 1865, the bodies recovered and brought back to
the hotel. There were two more deaths amongst the children, two infants during 1865-1866.

On 23 November 1848, at old St Paul’s Church at the
end of Princes Street, Palmer married Catherine
McKay Gribble. She arrived with her parents and two
younger brothers on the Essex in Wellington, originally from Cornwall. According to Chris Scull, “Her
father died shortly after and her mother remarried to
William Bacon and had two more children, Betsy and
Mary Ann.” James and Catherine were to have at least
14 children.

Two years later, Palmer entered Avondale’s story on 27
February 1866, when he purchased the future site of the
second and third Whau Hotels. This would have still
been open ground when, it is noted, the Whau Minstrels
held their first fundraising concert for a public hall for
the district to be built, that “a piece of ground kindly lent
by Jas. Palmer, esq., of the Whau, in a position well suited for the erection of a permanent public hall,” served as
the site of the stage in early March 1867. Four months

One thing Henry Leon, one of the Whau Hotel
publicans over the years, seemed to excel at was selling, or over-selling, the charms of rural Avondale.
From Auckland Star 22 January 1877.

The Albion Hotel, 18801882, courtesy Chris Scull.
The man standing in the
doorway may be James
Palmer himself.

The Avondale Historical Journal

Page 3
later, In July that year, he also purchased all the lots of
the original farm south of the present-day line St Jude
Street, bounded also by Great North Road, Chalmers
Street, and Blockhouse Bay Road. By April 1867,
Palmer had agreed to donate land for the public hall
(site of today’s Hollywood Cinema), the transfer to
Thomas Aickin and the rest of the trustees formally
going through the same month he obtained title himself
from David Nathan.
So, by the end of 1867, he owned substantial property
in Avondale, part of the new Greytown subdivision
where, it was hoped, a settlement near the proposed
Whau Canal could arise (and make him a lot of money
in land sales), he owned the hotel at Avondale (which
he leased to James Poppleton for £2 per week for three
years), as well as the profitable one at Eden Crescent,
near the Supreme Court building and the Provincial
Council offices. It might have appeared that he was extremely financially secure. But, such was not the case.
In February 1868, a meeting of Palmer's creditors was
held -- then, as later in the Whau, he had mortgaged
himself to the hilt regarding the Royal Hotel at Eden
Crescent. One of his creditors was Henry Chamberlin,
who was granted title to the brick addition to the Royal
Hotel and its land by the courts in March 1868. In
March 1869 came a notice in the newspapers of a sale
by auction of the remainder Palmer's real estate, and
this time it really did happen: Palmer left the Royal
Hotel in 1870.
Even through all this, Palmer was still purchasing
property; in September 1868, he purchased the original
Whau Hotel at the corner of Rosebank and Great North
Roads in Avondale.
In 1871, Palmer resided on Queen Street, and he
obtained the license for the nearby Duke of
Marlborough Hotel, running it until October 1872. Two
months later, the old Whau Hotel in Avondale burned
down. Palmer had had it insured at the time, and began
the process of rebuilding, this time not at the Rosebank
and Great North Road corner, but at the Five Roads,
today’s Avondale Roundabout. He applied for a license
to run his new hotel himself from April 1873, and on
July 4 that year held a grand opening night, with many
toasts by those there to Queen and Country. During this
time, Palmer donated land on St Judes Street for the
Anglican Church in July 1874 (it was built 10 years

Mrs Catherine McKay Palmer, nee Gribble. Photo courtesy
Chris Scull.

In 1876 he sold the Whau Hotel, and took over the
Nevada Hotel in Queen & Durham Streets, April 1876
until December 1877. In 1878, he held the first of his
Greytown sales of his Avondale land, trying to take
advantage of the survey work completed just before
which determined the path of the railway line to the
west, and the location of the new station. The sale
wasn’t a great success, with only seven out of the 41
lots put on offer being taken up. In May 1878, he took
over his Whau Hotel again until 1879, then he shifted to
the original wooden Albion Hotel (corner Wellesley
and Hobson Streets) in 1880. There first his 19-year-old
daughter Catherine died in 1882, followed soon afterward by his wife Catherine (from liver disease, according to Chris Scull). Palmer quit the Albion later that
The last ten years of his life was when his habit from
the days of the Royal Hotel at Eden Crescent of mortgaging and re-mortgaging proved his downfall. He applied for a license for the Shamrock Hotel in May 1882,
but transferred the license to someone else in August
that year, taking up the Anchor Hotel. Once again, he
began to sell his Avondale land, from December that
year, dedicating and laying out the path of the present
day Donegal Street (once Palmer Street) and Ahiriri
Street in April 1884.

The Avondale Historical Journal

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In May 1883, he applied to have the license for a hotel
he proposed to build at Avondale near the railway station called (appropriately) the Railway Hotel. Considering the best hotel sites were at the corners of major
thoroughfares, this might have been intended for the
corner of Blockhouse Bay Road and St Judes Street. He
was unsuccessful though (he hadn’t put in the application on time, the new hotel had not yet been built, and
the district had voted for no increase the year before).
Palmer later expressed his opinion that the licensing
district should be redrawn and shouldn’t include Point
Chevalier (the residents of which may well have
opposed any increase in hotels).
In July 1883, Palmer took out a mortgage with the Bank
of New South Wales, which further added to his financial woes. The Long Depression was biting hard, land
sales were slowing down, and he certainly felt the effects. In April 1884, the bank forced a £500 sale of Lots
1 to 5 on St Judes Street to Frank Marriott Morley, an
Avondale settler, where the bank received their mortgage money back (£362 10/-) and Palmer the rest (£137
10/-). The bank then cleared Palmer’s land at Lot 6 of
any mortgage entitlements – but he took out two more
on that remaining land, one from a lawyer named “Sir”
William Wasteneys in October 1885 (to clear the bank
debt, so Palmer later described), and another from a Mr.
Stephens in October 1886. That month, Palmer put up
the remainder of his land at Avondale for sale, while
staying as a guest at the Avondale Hotel. Stephens
transferred his entitlement to Wasteneys a few days
later, and a month later Palmer had completely defaulted, with Wasteneys assuming full title in December
1886. At this point, Palmer later claimed he had been so
ill for two years, “I do not know how the property has
been disposed of.”

Wasteneys claimed that Palmer had deliberately denied
signing deeds, and should be imprisoned. Which brings
to mind the adage about throwing rocks from glass
houses; I have put the “Sir” in quotation marks because it
appears Wasteneys was himself a fake baronet, wrongly
claiming the extinct title from 1887.
James Palmer died 30 July 1893 at Auckland Hospital,
and was buried at Symonds Street Cemetery. He received a one paragraph obituary in the NZ Herald three
days later, referring to the Royal and Avondale Hotels,
and noted that he was “an old member of the Masonic
order”. The A uckland Star, a newspaper that had devoted
a number of column inches to Palmer’s glorious opening
party at the new Whau Hotel in July 1873, belatedly followed the Herald’s lead on 10 August, also with just a
single paragraph as an obituary for one of Auckland’s
forgotten settler entrepreneurs.

The Avondale-Waterview Historical Society is proud to
be a member of the New Zealand History Federation.
More information at their website:
Or scan the code below.

Palmer declared bankruptcy in late 1891, relentlessly
pursued through the courts as a debtor by Wasteneys.
Palmer made his sworn statement to the Bankruptcy
Court on 23 September. During ensuing proceedings,

The Avondale Historical Journal
Published by:
the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Inc.
Editor: Lisa J. Truttman
Society contact:
19 Methuen Road, Avondale, Auckland 0600
Phone: (09) 828-8494, 027 4040 804
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